Sydney's rockabilly cult: The ultimate guide

Sydney's rockabilly cult: The ultimate guide

Don't fake it, live it! Or bluff your way through with our handy cheat sheet to be the most rockabilly rockabilly
Sydney rockabilly
There is more to this subculture than meets the eye.

Sydney's rockabilly craze is in full swing. All over the city, they are springing up -- guys with Brylcreemed and quiffed hair, rolled-up sleeves, stovepipe jeans and brothel-creeper shoes -- think Elvis, or Brando in "The Wild One."

So are Betty Page-styled girls, wearing ribbons and victory rolls in their hair; pedal-pushers and Leopard-skin anything.

These rockabillies have been flocking to the Rock n Roll & Alternative Market at the Jets Sports Club, Tempe, on the third Sunday of each month.

Sydney rockabillyCheck out the quiff in this rocking mirror at the Rock 'n' Roll Alternative Market.They’re cruising for vintage and rock 'n' roll clothes; as well as dusty vinyl and CDs, books and art stalls.

Live swing, ska bands and DJs pound through the southern suburbs and, hell, even burlesque performances and roller derby competitions. It’s the real rockabilly deal.

A recent celebration of rockabilly ‘kustom kulture’ saw rockabillies flock to the first VaVoom Fest at the Sydney Showground.

But there’s even more to this subculture than meets the eye.

Fakers can be easily caught out. Who do you listen to? What do you wear? Where are your tattoos? And what do you drive? There's a lot to master.

So be careful: if you want to be a rockabilly, you better do it properly. Rather than jive you around, here’s the skinny on how to be hip in Sydney’s scene.

Record collection

Rockabilly began as a musical genre; a blend of rock 'n' roll and country. Elvis gets much of the credit, but Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Ricky Nelson, Wanda Jackson, Eddie Cochran and 80s revivalists The Stray Cats are synonymous with the culture. Any serious rockabilly has these artists on their shelves.

These days rockabilly regularly merges into swing (Imelda May), ska (Amazing Royal Crowns) and back to country (Kitty Daisy Lewis) while breaking off into sub-genres punka-billy (The Living End) and psycho-billy (The Cramps and The Horrorpops) and cow-punk (Slim Cessna’s Auto Club). So take your pick.

Dress to impress

Sydney rockabillyThe market is held the third Sunday of the month in Tempe.

The look is nostalgic yet cool -– when guys were guys and girls were dolls -- and none of this gender blurring you see in today’s fashion. You've got to get it right.

Route 66 (257 Crown St, Darlinghurst) takes the greasiest route with Levis and Wranglers, pencil skirts, circle dresses, garage and bowling shirts and vintage cowboy boots.

Across the road, Wheels & Dollbaby’s (259 Crown St, Darlinghurst) 1950s-era elegance carries the label of retro style icon Dita Von Teese of Burlesque performer and retro; that Kate Moss struts down the catwalk.

Newtown’s Faster Pussycat (431a King St) caters to the whole rockabilly family with wartime-era racks that includes jumpsuits and Ts for rockabilly babies.

Those finishing touches

Those willing to fully commit to the movement can say it with the pinpoint accuracy of tattoos: Sailor Jerry’s swallows, anchors and pin-up girls are all definitely back in style; and much preferred to barbed-wire arm-bands and butterfly tramp-stamps.

Ladies interested in perfecting the pomp and victory rolls, make-up and real life pin-up girl look can take the Boogie Bop Dames course. You’ll be given the tools and tricks of the trade to take home, to be a rockabilly beauty every day.

Sweet rides

Shining hot rods, rusted-out rat rods and deadly dragsters encapsulate the 50s vintage ride. While an American model is truly classic, think local with a refurbished FJ or EJ Holden, or Chrysler Valiant.

The Day of the Drags at Eastern Creek sees old school drag racing, sounds from The Creepers and No Brakes and a vintage pinup competition for the ladies.

Steppin' out

Sydney rockabillyThe perfect shoe for the Shake, Rattle and Roll night at the Petersham Inn?Once you look the part, Swingtime Australia runs dance classes throughout the suburbs, while duo Limpin Jimmy and the Swing Kitten run cult-workshops on Sundays.

Gigs keep rockabilly-ing on. DJ duo Jive and Wail! perform neo-swing at free club night Jump at the Chalmers Hotel.  Shake Rattle and Roll is the first Saturday of every month at the Petersham Inn.

The 50-50 Club night at the retro-fitted the Vanguard with its ‘dress to get laid’ dress code, is a place to ‘look clean but feel dirty’.

Find extensive and regular updates of events and gigs at Rockabilly Retro.

Now you know, if you dare rockabilly: dress yourself up, jump in your topless Valiant and take that 1950s vintage ride for a groove session.

Colin Delaney is a Sydney-based freelance travel and arts journalist. He hasn't a dog, nor a cat, just a bike that keeps breaking down.

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